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Conducting foreign policy on martyrdom

December 02, 2011

When patriotism rules the minds, thinking faculties take the backseat. Patriotism, like religion, is a conviction based on a belief system which cannot be reasoned with. It’s the biggest, all-pervasive cult that entire nation states are besotted with, some to the point of no redemption — and there is no distinction between democratic and undemocratic polities whilst succumbing to patriotism. In the US and in India, for instance, patriotism overrides all else; it is a consistent state of mind through which everything else must be seen and judged. In countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea, autocratic regimes fan patriotic sentiment to show to the world how their people are behind government policies.

In Pakistan, patriotism is an organised affair, managed and overseen by state institutions through their beneficiaries, lackeys and the right wing lobby as and when the need arises. We have a long history of patriotism of the negative variety only, which oscillates between anti-India and anti-US/West rhetoric.

There is hardly anything positive about Pakistani patriotism; it relies mainly on condemnation of the enemy, real or perceived. Once such rhetoric starts it assumes larger than life proportions; everyone everywhere feels obliged to chip in with their own vent of anger until the brinkmen calling the shots decide that tactical results have been achieved. Whilst the fit lasts, nothing can hold back its fury, not even genuine national interest.

The way Pakistan has reacted to the killing of 24 soldiers by Nato air strikes is the most recent case in point, following the Memogate scandal. Granted it’s intolerable and unacceptable that our so-called allies should attack our army posts, but while our military is able to take armed assaults on the GHQ and the Mehran Naval Base from home-grown militants with some calm, western forces attacking our soldiers is somehow much more outrageous. Similarly, hundreds killed in American drone attacks, mostly terrorists, is more disgraceful than over 20,000 civilian lives lost, including those of women and children, in terrorist attacks on shrines, mosques, schools and in the bazaars. Were those not the sons and daughters of Pakistan, who were killed not in the line of duty defending their country on remote hilltops but whilst going about their daily, innocent routine in our cities? They were not even in the war zone, where bloody accidents can happen.

One is not saying that the latest Nato attack was an accident or a terrible miscalculation on the part of the foreign troops and their Afghan hosts, because if truth be told under these charged up conditions, we don’t really know that. The inflexible reaction shown by the ISPR tells us that it has totally rejected such an explanation and called the assault deliberate. The government too has stood firmly behind the armed forces’ stand on the issue, and the media just picked up the story and ran with it, with war songs blaring from TV sets and anchors baying for enemy blood. Cable operators have done their bit for the country and taken western news channels off the air. Under whose orders and under what rules and regulations, no one is willing to ask.

Is this a well thought out stance, especially when an inquiry into the air strikes is underway across the border? Even if it is held that the Nato attack was not a mistake but a deliberate move, it has to be asked what was Nato’s motive behind attacking Pakistan Army check posts? If the motive was to pit the Pakistan Army against the foreign troops based in Afghanistan and make that an excuse to extend the theatre of war into Pakistani territory, then the sinister mind that cast the bait must now feel vindicated because we have taken the bait.

Nato supplies have been cut off from Pakistan and the US has been told to vacate the Shamsi air base in Balochistan, perhaps a fitting response to the provocation, but what is next, you may well ask. Where do we go from here? When nations become angry, they behave like the individuals who run them, and this isn’t the best frame of mind in which to rush to conclusions and take action. The past 10 years show us that the hubris displayed by the US in its ‘war on terror’, whose battle cry is vengeance, is not the way to go, because it has got them nowhere. Is that the destination Pakistan also wants to embark upon?

A saner response would have been to use the Bonn conference to put across Pakistan’s point of view much more aggressively to convince the world that Pakistanis have borne the brunt of this war which is going nowhere. A forceful argument based on logic would perhaps still work better than the knee-jerk reaction shown so far. Islamabad should reconsider boycotting the Bonn moot and not opt for diplomatic isolation by being absent from it. Being absent from Bonn can lead to further estrangement from the international community that can spill over to the economic and military domains — a spectre Pakistanis can ill-afford to grapple with on their own, all alone.

It is time to save Pakistan from international isolation even as we damn Nato and demand retribution for the outrageous attack on our border check posts. The soldiers died in the line of duty in a war zone defending their country, which was their job, and have been duly and rightfully honoured. It would be wrong to conduct foreign policy on their martyrdom.


The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.